That today's technology has the power to transform industrial business is without question. Digital transformation, or digitalization, is the aspiration for many industrial organizations, though some still wonder what this nebulous concept really means and to what extent its promise is achievable.
The key to digitalization is commonly viewed as the industrial internet of things (IoT), but the IoT alone cannot drive transformation. Manufacturing plants, utilities, and other heavy industrial facilities cannot rely solely on new devices and connected technologies for transformative improvements in operations and maintenance. They must also have a high degree of usability and mobility in their enterprise software.
Successfully integrating these three basic principles – connectivity, mobility, and usability – is foundational to enabling measurable business value from digitalization initiatives. However, the fast pace of technology innovation makes this task all the more challenging.
“We are living in a time when technological advancements can overwhelm us with complexity," says Tom Moriarty, president of Alidade MER. "It’s an incredible time, with capabilities available to us that promise orders-of-magnitude improvements.”
Opportunities for improvement are found in industrial design, operations, and maintenance as well as in aftermarket services. Moriarty believes the greatest value from digital transformation comes from being able to remove defects before high-cost repairs or catastrophic failures occur.
To better understand the relationship between the industrial IoT and enterprise software mobility and usability as well as the collective influence of these on achieving digital transformation, enterprise software vendor IFS conducted three primary research studies of 200 North American industrial executives in 2017. The company's findings help shed light on whether and how well enterprise software is supporting digital transformation today and where work is needed to overcome barriers.
With the IoT, companies can integrate enterprise software with a network of connected devices to collect and analyze real-time data, enable machine learning, automate business processes, and transform operations and asset management – not just internally but with third parties such as OEMs, parts suppliers, and service providers.
Equipment sensors and controllers, smartphones and tablets, and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks are already pervasive in the industrial space, and new IoT options are being introduced at lightning speed. However, each is just a piece of the digital transformation puzzle.
“IoT is not just adding sensors or even better sensors, or improving communications or doing better data analysis. IoT projects combine one or more of these elements to create something new, to provide asset and enterprise health measures in real time,” says Earl Hill, principal at Loma Consulting. “For example, IoT sensors and communications are necessary to collect much of the data needed to make Big Data analytics happen.”
Connectivity on the plant floor can be a barrier to digital transformation, observes Kethlyn White, digital manufacturing and IIoT go-to-market lead at Capgemini. “A lot of times companies are struggling with physically connecting the machines or figuring out how to get the data off the machines. We are seeing a lot of unused data out there and no plan on how to use the data to support broader transformation,” she says.
“When we do our plant walk-throughs, we always consider these key points before getting too deep into a transformation discussion to make sure we clearly understand the starting point,” adds White.
IFS' September 2017 study, published in a white paper titled Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and Digital Transformation, found that enterprise software must actively facilitate the IoT in order for data from connected devices to drive transformational value. When enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM/CMMS), and field service management (FSM) software prepares companies well for digital transformation, they are able to make better and more complete use of IoT data than other respondents.
The study shows that even when companies feel their enterprise software is strong in facilitating IoT, they still tend to use data from connected devices on the plant floor for things like process automation. DTleaders, who are more confident with overall digital transformation, also tend to apply the IoT more holistically with help from their enterprise software. This is in contrast to DT laggards who—even if they are also strong in IoT—say their enterprise software helps them less with digital transformation.